Silence and actual presence


Because silence is the other’s face, it is the primal image that the partner takes in the mechanism of alterity. This fundamental pattern is even more accessible when the silence in therapy show was is called the actual presence.

Image and actual presence are two complementary functions that constantly remodel themselves after each other. It is the silence’s function to allow both to truly show themselves, the image for the patient and the actual presence for the therapist. This is the real mirror of transfer, that shows both sides of the Other, internal and external, image and presence.


It is silence that opens this mirror, allowing peeking at what is inside. The mirror’s level is characteristic of the great apes, some kind of specialization of the importance of mimicking each other to learn social codes and language. We can suggest that this is an extension of an animal’s trace in life. The face is therefore immediately recognizes within the first hours, just like mimicked reactions. Then come the games of voice and mime between adults and children.


For men and great apes alike, the face is the main symbol of socialization, playing with the harmony of the internal way signals are interpreted and the signals themselves. Lévinas’ work is mostly a philosophical exploration of the articulation between the symbolic universe and the internalized vision of humanity, the imago, the vision of the other preexisting before any encounter and constantly being modified.


It is the foundation of what I call subjective logic which works through human interactions between two persons and isn’t fully linked to the self or the other. Both persons are playing a game of mirror in the dialectic space, the interaction being the analyzable subject.

In a second time, each person internalizes what happened for themselves, modifying on every sides imago and symbols.

Silence creates a breach between those two planes, internal and external, allowing for them to be seen, analyzed, understood and finally modified. This difference between the imago and reality created by silence allows to see them both as two faces of the same coin, two sides of a mirror.

Therefore there are two more sides to transfer between analysis and building: the real interaction with the therapist and the modified imago coming from it.


Silence and transfer


The constructive part of transfer that interests us in therapy is its building capacity coming out of the presence in session because this is what is constantly modified. Imaginary effects follow through after the different symbols. Therefore, if the mirror phase is endless during the cure, silence allows to modify it and not get stuck in an unmovable identity, glued, where narcissistic behaviors keep on repeating themselves instead of getting modified, reorganized.

Silence is literally what divides both planes of narcissism, what Freud called the ideal self and the ideal of self, that is established more clearly as an actual presence on the symbol’s side, opposed to the imago that is on the imaginary side. If the imago is similar to the actual presence it is because of the dialogue where acts are possible and thoughts get repeated but therapy doesn’t exist.

If on the opposite end silence, distance, holding back play their role of divider in the narcissistic process then both sides of the mirror can be analyzed in therapist alongside rebuilding and modifying. Silence allows getting as close as possible to the patient’s deepest truth and the end of their therapy.

But if we forgot that the silence is only a starting tool of a desired rebuilding then it becomes a traumatic and often definitive separation being the self and the other. Speech disappears into silence and this can become traumatic if the therapist does not allow for the patient to rebuild it.

Desire can not be analyzed without both speech and silence. Silence creates precise development. It is necessary to communicate which allows it to stay true to its fundamental spaltung. The therapist’s silence is then a welcoming space, empty, an in-between where the other is invited to talk about contradictions, conflicts that shape their life, the space they occupy, their desire.


The limits of transfer and the results of its silence


But is it truly possible for someone’s desire to replace another’s, for the patient’s to replace the therapist’s? Probably not, and from this point of view the silence offered to listen to the other is impossible, a travesty when the offer if for the other to find themselves at home in a place that is not theirs. When you are invited, you are not home…

Also this silence of the therapist is not directly a place left for the other’s desire but a place where problems can be sen and a desire can be created but not lived… Once again, therapy is not a place of narcissistic recognition.

When this happens, we find ourselves in a more perverted setting where alienation of the image begins, in this case in transfer. The therapist’s silence needs to be an invitation for a blockage of desire to show its structure for the patient to work on it in their own world. There is no room for the other’s desire. Desire finds its way back thanks to the therapist but also mostly without them. The actual presence is always an obstacle to the expression of desire, even if it is unwanted. There, more than the therapist’s silence it is during their absence that the patient’s desire can come back: outside of sessions.


Silence and anxiety


There is still the silence perpetually given after a question. If it serves as basis for the therapy and allows for the opening of narcissistic planes to allow the symptom to be seen as shown above, it can also be the therapist’s refusal of the psycho-therapeutic dimension of rebuilding. The patient’s anxiety shows a resistance, this time on the therapist’s part.

If the active perlaboration is a consequence of the silence or if the silence is necessary for a perlaboration to exist, the therapeutic techniques that do not leave enough space for the patient to rebuild themselves lead to the creation of a hysterical common speech with the therapist. It becomes a basis of the identity with its fast results but it lacks long-term solutions because it does not work on the individual, authentic desire of the patient.

Therapy targets the structural change, the silence that comes with it being the integration of the change after being its major origin. Finally, the dream creates a basis for everything, stabilized by the daily acts of creation in the patient’s life.

Indeed, the symptom has a meaning and it requires silence to be expressed, coming from the idea that the unconscious is structured like a language. The silence is a logical necessity to understand a symptom’s structure, for the symptom’s language to appear in the patient’s words. Indeed, the symptom’s language is always seen in different words that express the structure, the blocked desire and the symptom. Therapy’s work is to unravel one from the other thanks to the silence and the structure, like how the ethnologist or linguist work in an inverted way, looking for getting past symptom and desire so only the speech is left.

Only the symptom can be interpreted, not the desire.

The absence of intervention is favorable for the speech, allowing the patient to reconstruct their newly found desire but the risk is for it to leave the planes of desire and symptom stuck together, creating a counterproductive anxiety that goes against the symptom’s anxiety.


The paradoxes of silence and intervention


But can desire be validated without the therapist’s intervention on the symptom, as we saw earlier? This question is the most difficult when it comes to the silence.

For this we need to go back to the fact that any intervention from the therapist is more or less a mistake. In fact human beings are so complicated that any kind of speech enters the other in a manner of terra incognita for the major part.

The therapist’s approval could fixate the patient’s desire in a direction where it would be less free. In this case, validating a desire is always a mistake.

But if there is no intervention, the desire can stay at the phase of fantasy except if the patient understands that the therapist’s silence represents the fact that they can not say the other’s truth, their desire. But why can not we say this, that we can not know the truth of desire, but we can see and understand in part the symptom? The only intervention on desire would be to consider it as a creative, unstoppable force independent of the object it is about.

It seems to me that it is less dangerous to take account of the other’s desire than to be silent and let all fantastic significations happen at the loss of of this of the researcher in the community of researchers that is humanity. This opens the way to development more than the anxious cult of silence around the question of desire.

This kind of silence in some therapies, mostly lacannian, sends back to a time before speech in which the therapist goes back to their own failed therapy, probably because of the bad interpretation in therapy of the limit concept of non-being.

The subject’s desire stays beyond analysis and what can be exchanged. This touches the fundamental dimension that makes the human being an unmovable object in the presence of other human beings.

Only words and their use can work on this archaeology of belonging to humanity and this is why it is preferable to underline the subject’s desire simply because it is different from ours, even the analyst’s. In other words, underlining the patient’s desire (and not its object that could be a common thing) is possible and preferable if the singularity between the patient and therapist is clearly defined.

Only speech separates from the other, not the old anxious silence, residue of a detrimental fusion.


Clinical case: she stops the session because of an unbearable feeling of love that sends her back to another unbearable thing, the precocious relationship with a mother lacking maternal love, supporting the shame of the grandfather’s destiny in a complete blockage of communication. When she managed to speak, it was to underline my lack of interest, the little attention I gave her and the unbearable feeling of only having a work relationship… She came to see me after an intercourse with her physician of whom she was in love with. The body and expressions speak without words but linked to each other with the other’s presence in a silence full of anxiety. It is in the domain of transfer that the signifying link between body and words can be rebuilt, the relation between the facts of transfer and the actual events of her life making sense as they are spoken through the exposition of imaginary processes. The long work of her silence will only be possibly thanks to the therapist’s patient speech, rare and careful but happening its time the unbearable was coming and the silence turned into panicked anxiety. It is important to say that this patient is active in everyday life and is not marginalized in society, with a husband and children that do not do badly. It is the therapist’s silence that allows for the space between her old depression and her lack of reassuring responses to open: in this in-between an entire story spanning three generation, painful and repressed will be reconstructed. It is enough for the space of conversation to close for the one between imago and actual presence to open. The therapist becomes conscious of the imago that happen within themselves, projected by the patient’s silence that creates a presence. But this deconstruction of the unconscious narcissistic montage can be dangerous if it is not followed at the same time by a reconstruction in the space of transfer. It is then the role of the therapist’s intervention, sometimes reduce to a single voice that talks to the patient with different intent. I have a lot of patients that talk of the lulling effect of the therapist’s voice at the end of those hardships. The therapist needs to know how to balance this so the focus of the therapy stays the reconstruction of the patient’s desire through silence when it is possible. In this case, silence stays the guardian of development, the therapist’s intervention only coming on two planes: the work on the obstacle to desire, called resistance, and sometimes also on the transmission of knowledge.